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Edward Swan HENNESSY (1866-1929)
Viola and Piano Works - Volume 2
Sonate en style irlandais Op. 14 (c.1903) transcr. Marcin Murawski [16:31]
Mazurka et Polonaise Op. 17 (1906) [4:17]
Quatre Morceaux Op. 71 (1926) [6:01]
Étude Op. 25 (1906) [2:32]
Rapsodie gaélique Op. 63 (1924) transcr. Marin Murawski [5:04]
À la manière de Frédéric Chopin (1927) [1:34]
Deuxième Sonatine Op. 80 (c.1929) transcr. Marin Murawski [8:58]
Sonatine Op. 81 (1929) transcr. Marin Murawski [8:45]
Marcin Murawski (viola)
Hanna Holeksa (piano)
rec. September 2021, Academy of Music, Poznań, Aula Nova, Poland

You can read my review of the first volume in this series where you’ll find brief biographical details about the American-born Swan Hennessy. He was much influenced by the musical ethos of his Irish father’s homeland and it permeated much of his music, which was crafted in a conservative and very attractive idiom.

The second volume in this series once again includes a series of transcriptions for viola made by the soloist Marcin Murawski from violin or cello originals. Given that he is in the engine room of the recent revival of Hennessey’s string music this seems a reasonable way of propagating the music, in lieu of the originals. They include the Sonate en style irlandais of c.1903 (a violin original) which exudes the free and easy and Irish folkloric writing at which he was so adept, as well as capriccioso brio in the brief central movement. The emotional weight falls on the slow finale where earnest lyricism, deeply rooted in mid-nineteenth procedure, gives way to a kind of Fiddler of Dooney élan.

The Sonatine Op. 81– the work’s titles reflect the fact that Hennessy lived in France for many years – was written for cello and is his last work, taking grateful and unashamed refuge in old school verities, reaching back beyond Brahms to Schumann, perhaps. The Deuxième Sonatine comes from the same year and whilst it’s known that there is a viola version – it was originally written for violin – this is lost so Murawski has arranged it for his instrument. It’s a small-scale nine-minute, three-movement work, the most immediately appealing moments falling in the delightful Irish balladry of the Andantino.

The Quatre Morceaux offer a variety of easy-going charms, from frothy insouciance to dance patterns. Hennessy was yet another to fall for the Fox-Trot and Tango craze surging across Europe and his examples are unadventurous, short and rather attractive. His deeper self can be felt in the last of the four panels, a pastel sunrise followed by a fast Irish reel. The final work for strings is the Rapsodie gaélique (originally for cello) with its full complement of Scottish melancholy that modifies nicely via viola folk drone to genial warmth, with fine piano prompts, adeptly played here by Hanna Holeksa.

The remaining works are for solo piano. Mazurka et Polonaise Op. 17 was composed for his Polish wife-to-be, and it luxuriates in national dances styles, the latter rather more technically demanding than the former. The Étude Op. 25 is a kind of polymetric Chopin in two and a half minutes. À la manière de Frédéric Chopin is self-descriptive and one of his popular pastiche pieces. It seems incongruous that he should have, at the time, seemingly been best known for these jeux d’esprit rather than his sonatas.

Axel Klein is an authority on the composer and contributes expectedly fine notes. Once again, the Academy of Music, Poznań provides a suitable recording venue. Hennessy has been well served by the two performers, whose ensemble is tight. Murawski is certainly not the most opulent of tonalists – he is rather dry toned in fact – but he is rhythmically vivacious and sounds inside the music.

Jonathan Woolf

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